sealPurdue News


October 1995

Environmental messages pose benefits, risks for children

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Done properly, environmental education has many benefits for children. Done poorly, these messages can be quite scary, says a Purdue University researcher specializing in environmental education.

Cherry Delaney, curriculum specialist with the Purdue Department of Agronomy, says it can be traumatic for children to hear statements about how everything is dying or the world is ending.

"For instance, if you tell a child that there will be no food left in so many years or that a certain animal is dying off, they may get scared by it," Delaney says. "You can, however, temper statements like those with 'but we can recycle our cans and paper to save our natural resources' and let the child know that he or she can make a difference."

She advises parents and educators to involve children in activities they will enjoy and from which they will learn environmental lessons. Recycling, composting, planting trees and learning facts about the soil and water are ways to involve youth in environmentally friendly activities from a very early age.

For older children, environmental lessons are right outside the window. The teachers at Cumberland Elementary School in West Lafayette built a nature center in the courtyard of the building about five years ago to aid in their environmental teaching efforts.

Cathy Rudmann, a second-grade teacher at Cumberland, sees a need for the kind of environmental education that takes place there.

"They have to realize that they don't have to go somewhere to see nature," she says. "It's right in their own backyard. It's just a matter of opening their eyes and telling them what to look for."

Currently, there are a pond, several trees and wildflowers in the nature center. There are tadpoles in the pond teachers can use to explain metamorphic changes in animals. Teachers also encourage the study of insects and plants. The children can observe a pair of ducks that takes residence in the nature center for a few weeks each spring. Plans are under way to build a pizza garden, and possibly a rock garden, next fall to teach the students about gardening and geology, respectively. In the pizza garden, students and teachers will grow vegetables that are used in making a pizza.

Robbie Dupre and Ross Emery, second-graders at Cumberland, say their favorite part of the nature center is working with the pond.

"We get to look for tadpoles out in the pond and watch them get bigger and grow into frogs," Ross says.

Robbie says: "There are a lot of animals that come in there for us to watch. We saw a bluebird the other day, and the ducks came back today."

Robbie also participated in making a rain gauge for the nature center, and he enjoys checking it every day to record the rainfall.

Cumberland Elementary received a grant from the Tippecanoe County Soil and Water Conservation office that has allowed Rudmann to educate staff members and to develop materials and make improvements to the nature center.

They have been using Project Wild, an environmental educational program, to introduce to the teachers some nature center activities they can do with students of different age groups. Rudmann is creating several instructional kits, complete with picture books, worksheets and suggested activities, for different areas of the nature center, such as the pond.

Delaney suggests several nature educational materials for children, most of which are available from Cooperative Extension Service offices. A program called Indiana's Water Riches is geared for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. It teaches how water is used, where it comes from and where it goes, and explains water pollution and water conservation.

She also suggests Project Wild and Project Learning Tree, as well as using 4-H project manuals as supplemental lessons. Several 4-H projects such as Soil and Water Conservation, Geology, Forestry, and Wildlife can be used to teach students and 4-H members of all ages. These manuals have a reading and education section, then suggest activities for the youngsters to get hands-on experience with the topic. Parents and educators interested in obtaining some of these materials can contact their local Extension office.

Sources: Cherry Delaney, (765) 494-4789
Ron Woods, (765) 775-1480
Cathy Rudmann, (765) 775-1480

Writer: Hannah Speaker, (765) 494-8415; Internet

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color feature photograph of students from Cumberland Elementary School is available from the Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096.

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